Is the US military that good...

or is it good because of our superior technical and manufacturing prowess? I read a bood on Rommell and was quoted as saying that the New Zealand and Austrailion army fought with a vengence and that the Italions were a bunch of lazy asses. If you think back to all the wars we have been in, you get mixed signals. Rev. war we won becuase England didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t send over there “real” army. Same with the war of 1812. The Civil War was won by out supplying the south. Certanly not by a greater will to win. In the Spanish American war, we fought an empire in its dying (dead) days. Oops forgot the Mexican War…but again an underequipt fighting force. WWI was basically over when we got there. In WWII we again got into the European Campaign after the Germans had lost the Battle of Britain and the Japanese were basically defeated after the Battle of Midway…perhaps our only shining moment. Basically entire Japanese Navy vs. our entire Pacific Fleet. Back in Europe, the Italions did not want to fight and by the time we invaded Northern Europe Germany was done and we had the numbers and freshnes on our side. The Korean war was against a third world nation as was Nam. Yes they both had the backing of China/USSR, but only on the manufactoring side and pilots. Technochly and trainingly (I dont think thats a word) we had them out classed by far. Having served in the US Chair Force I have seen our Armed Forces in action (all branches) and I’m not all that impressed. Ok, I’ve written enough. Have at it.

This sounds like a Great Debate to me.

My take however is that the U.S. military’s edge in most of the wars it won was an economic edge. The U.S. could always keep coming up with equipment and manpower than the losers.
In Vietnam, all that equipment and manpower couldn’t change the course of the war because of the nature of the enemy. To win in Vietnam, we would have had to have beaten the North Vietnamese at their own game. And we weren’t very good at that sort of war.

By the time we got to the Gulf War, we wised up. We got most of Iraq’s opponents to join up with us and we planned a lot better. Hence, we prevailed.

Welcome to the Straight Dope Message Board.

I think.

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!” - the White Queen

Hmm… Think this will hit Great Debates or The Pit first?

You’re right that we’ve been qualitatively outclassed in certain wars. The Spanish outshot us in the Spanish-American War; the Germans had serious advantages over us in a bunch of areas (airplane development, submarine development, general training and discipline) in WWII.

There are also ways in which Americans have, historically, been quantitatively excellent. Our small arms were the best of World War II. Our esprit de corps has made up for the relative lack of experience we’ve had, as latecomers to big conflicts. So I think it’s hard to chalk up our victories to quantity rather than quality.

The two concepts (qual. and quant.) are harder to separate after WWII, since it takes a large industrial base to have a major weapons category. The U.S. is without competition in several weapons categories (sea-launched land-attack cruise missiles, stealth aircraft), which makes it hard to compare.

One place I disagree with you … I don’t believe WWI was basically over by the time we got there. German offensives in 1918 seriously threatened the Allies. The French aren’t kidding when they say the U.S. Marines saved Paris. While WWII might have been sown up for the Allies several years before the shooting stopped, WWI was still very much “up in the air” by the time the U.S. was asserting itself.

It varied from war to war.

Revolutionary War: Slight manpower edge, IIRC; but the major reasons we won were: larger will to fight than Britain’s willingness to suffer, combined with being able to threaten Britain with multiple wars (against our allies the French, our friends the Spanish, and Britain’s enemy Holland).

War of 1812: A draw.

Mexican-American War: Technological edge, combined with much better leadership. Contrary to what most think, the general assumption by most foreign countries was that Mexico would kick our ass up one side and down the other. They had a professional, European-styled standing army; we had a bunch of rag-tag volunteers thrown together into militias. We beat the Mexicans because A) we had “flying artillery”; fast moving horse-drawn artillery that was much better than any cannon the Mexicans could gather, and were able to win battles we otherwise wouldn’t have due to artillery superiority (in ability, not in numbers) and B) Scott and Taylor could run rings, strategically speaking, around Santa Anna.

Civil War: The North won because of economic and manpower leads. The North could afford to spend the money to build a navy to starve the South, and could afford massive losses in battles; thus, eventually the Anaconda Plan and Grant’s constant forward movement no matter the cost eventually forced the South to surrender.

Spanish-American War: Technological edge. Our navy was steel; the Spanish was wooden. Take a look at the amazing casualty differences in the naval battles around the Phillipines- IIRC, the main part of the Spanish fleet was sunk with 6 losses to the Americans. 6 people, not 6 ships. And once our Navy had cleared away Spanish ships, our ability to win on the ground was mostly assured.

World War I: Our very presence won that one. Simply by beginning to send troops over, we forced the Germans to make a desperate attack in order to win the war before we were truly involved; that attack failed, and the demoralized, defeated Germans began falling back. We were more of a clean-up crew than an actual fighting force in that one.

World War II: We defeated the Japanese through technology and economy. Technology- we were able to crack the Japanese diplomatic and military codes and therefore knew what the Japanese were doing practically before they were. Economically- we were able to outproduce Japan in terms of ships (and especially carriers), so even though the Japanese had better planes, it couldn’t stop us from being able to best them time and again.

We defeated the Germans because of their own poor leadership- by the time we began attacking, they were overstretched in trying to defend themselves. Thus, we never really had to face the German Army in the strength and resources that France and the Soviet Union had faced.

But that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.


“Y’know, I would invite y’all to go feltch a dead goat, but that would be abuse of a perfectly good dead goat and an insult to all those who engage in that practice for fun.” -weirddave, set to maximum flame

Theories of Warfare:

There are several ways to defeat an enemy. Tactical Warfare, Strategic Warfare, Economic warfare, just to name a few.

And there is plenty of overlap, for mix-and-match, as well; on the modern battlefield, no one method would suffice to insure victory.

Beating the enemy tactically means beating them on the battlefield, either through superior tactics or attrition. Attrition is very unpopular, for obvious reasons; it can be just as costly for the victor as the defeated. Tactical Warfare usually requires better troops, weaponry, tactics or organization, or any combination thereof.

Strategic Warfare usually also includes Maneuver, or the ability to be in more places than your enemy can be. This includes land, air and water, hence the U.S. Militaries “Air/Land Battle Doctrine”. This also includes superior tactics, and Mechanized Forces, which requires a somewhat sophisticate Idindustrial Base and a Logistical Support Structure (which was one of Hitler’s failures, as well as Saddam Hussein).

But overall, Strategic Warfare targets not only the enemy’s abilities to make war, by targeting industry and infrastructure (roads, bridges, factories, poweplants, utilities) but also the enemy people’s support for continuing the war. Let them go without food and water and necessary utilities for a while, and the war no longer seems like such an attractive option, and home-front support withers.

You can also beat your enemy Psychologically, usually through a decisive and costly (to your enemy) victory; this typically requires superior tactics, organization and weaponry, going back to Logistics and Industrial capacity (Industry and Technology usually go hand-in-hand, but not always; just look at the former Soviet Union).

Modern warfare (as practiced by the U.S. Military) is now considered to be about Logistics and Information; we know how to build advanced weapons, train quality troops, organize effective fighting units, and utilize superior tactics and specialized units to act as force multipliers (these are Special-Operations, Engineers, Airborne/Airmobile and PsyOps-type units).

Now it’s about supporting these units, for extended periods, often times in hostile environments; and knowing where the enemy is, where they are most vulnerable (Command-and-Control nexus, for instance), on the theory that if you cut the head off the snake, the body dies.

When I was stationed in Germany in '86-'88, we were trained to identify and take out the command vehicles of the Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact, on the theory that the troops would stop fighting once the command impetus was removed.

Sometime in '89, that theory was reversed. Apparently some analyst decided that Soviet/Warsaw troops would continue to fight, even in the absense of command input.

So it was decided to try to destroy these units as quickly and as violently as possible, utilizing “kill-boxes” (zones of enormously concentrated firepower), to demoralize the battlefield commanders into withdrawing or surrendering.

It seems to have been validated somewhat after Desert Storm, when a captured Iraqi Tank Regimental Commander was quoted as saying (this ain’t exact, but close enough for you to get the gist):

FYI: the Iraqi’s TOE was based on the Soviet model, a regiment has approximately 100 combat vehicles, and half again as many specialized vehicles for anti-aircraft defense, NBC defense, and the like.

So hitting the enemy with vastly superior firepower, in as short a time-span as possible, has a powerfull psychological effect on the enemy: they realize that they don’t want to fight anymore, and surrender.

As I said above, these are just some of the theories, and the modern U.S. Military seems fairly adroit at tailoring their “Plan” with just the right amount of each element to effectively wage war.

Personally, I think Sun-Tzu’s thinkings and philosophy on warfare are just as applicable today as they were when they were written; after all, when you come doen to it, in any fight, you’re not beating the weapons, you’re trying to beat the man behind the weapon.

Black Knight!
1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment
1st Cavalry Division

Screw the politeness on this one. How the hell could World War Two have been basically over before the US got involved because the Japanese lost the Battle of Midway, moron? THE UNITED STATES BEAT JAPAN AT THAT BATTLE! Lack of American military equipment, weapons, and manpower certainly had more than a little to do with Allied victories in Africa, Europe, and Asia.

Okay, I’ve calmed down now. Evidently from post number one in this thread, the OP has:

a) Not passed History Class &
b) Not passed English Class.

JCOAPS! I can’t wait until the kiddie school vacation is over.

John: I pretty much agree with your take on the Japanese, at least early in the war.

By the mid-point of the Pacific War, though, our planes and ship were equalling, and in most cases surpassing, the Japanese. For instance, the Zero was a more maneuverable plane than most American planes, but it was comparitively undergunned and fragile, compared to the F4-U Corsair and others.

As well, America spent more time on training our pilots, having the net effect of fielding a more experienced pilot that their average Japanese counterparts (even though there were many highly experienced and dangerous opponents, in both Germany and Japan; these “super aces” were usually attrited rather than beaten by superior pilots

The one area we never beat the Japanese was Battleship design.

Unfortunately, new weapons systems (Carriers), new battle doctrine (Carrier Deployment) and Industrial Capacity (more and better carriers) rendered the Battleship obsolete as the primary weapons platform of the sea (although, as Halsey found out at Leyte, they were still very potent weapons, and not to be regarded lightly).

In all other regards, I agree.


Monty, I think you’re referencing these sentences from the OP (correct me if I’m wrong):

I can’t speak for Deadman, but I think he meant to write something to the effect of:
In WWII we got into the European Campaign after the Germans had lost the Battle of Britain, so the immediate danger to our only true ally was over. Likewise, in the Pacific, we ended the direct Japanese threat fairly early on (less than a year after Pearl Harbor, and many years before V-J day). So the bulk of America’s time in the war happened after the Axis quit expanding.

I don’t really agree with the OP’s point; whether or not the enemy is a strategic threat is little concern to the soldier on the ground, at Arnhem or El Alamein or Iwo Jima. We could have lost tons more people, and allowed much more harm to our Allies, if we had been poorer soldier and airmen and sailors. But I can see the point: the US has never had to prove itself in a fight for its very existence - not since the 18th Century anyway.

Monty said

followed by personal insults.

Actually, don’t “screw the politeness”. We do not insult each other in General Questions. We attack ideas, but not people. Please confine direct personal insults to the BBQ Pit.

On another note, I’m going to leave this in GQ for now, since responses to the OP have mostly been reviews of actual U.S. military history with a minimum of contention. I’m mindful that the OP intended to start a debate, and I may eventually move it over to GD.

Naw, the US marines are some the biggest badasses on the planet, you shouldn’t hold it against them that they also have the fastest, strongest, and most determined support as well. In fact, the US has to train decent enemies. Looking at the past roll call of West Point you have your garden variety guerilla leaders and the meanest revolutionaries in history. We also arm more than half the world. Hell, without the US there wouldn’t be anyone worth shooting.

“Clatu, Verrata…nector?..neck-tie?”

Another element to consider is the attitude and approach of the American military. If you read almost any work of Stephen Ambrose, you will see his point about the (relatively) independent thinking and action of American citizen-soldiers. Another author, Hanson, I believe his name is, argues that generals like Sherman and Patton led and inspired their men to fight not just to win battles, but a “moral” war to destroy what were at the root, evil societies - the South for slavery, Germany for the Nazis.


Speaking in terms of relative equipment and number of soldiers… (as in, if everyone had the same number of people and equipment) the Israeli army is the best in the world. For the number of troops and equipment they have, they are a powerful force, not to mention well motivated. Think about it… on every border they have people that are religiously, and openly militarily hostile to Israel. Sure Israel gets support from the US, but they are by no means dependent on that.

Probably not appropriate for this forum, but I wanted to say that the US military is not necessarily the best in the world, maybe just the biggest and baddest.

One aspect of the logistics/tactics discussion is that it tends to overshadow very real qualities demonstrated by the U.S. military in action. In many ways the German High Command was better than many of their U.S. counterparts. However, it was not merely supply that prevented the Army from being pushed back into the sea at Anzio or held the wavering lines at The Bulge. There is no question that our air superiority and ability to re-supply at Anzio allowed us to hang on–but it was dogfaces in foxholes who prevented the Wehrmacht, with superior artillery and an unimaginably better terrain advantage from simply wiping out beachhead. At the Bulge, the weather prevented both air support and re-supply for over three weeks, yet after the initial assault, the Germans were unable to make any serious inroads in the U.S. line.

The Huertgen forest was almost exclusively an infantry battle over excellent defensive terrain that U.S. soldiers, with little armor, took by brute force at horrible costs.

Similar stories can be cited in the Pacific. Burma and Guadalcanal were both fought without the “automatic” re-supply that we associate with U.S. wars.

I am not claiming that the industrial might of the U.S. was not the deciding factor, but it is not simply a matter of lining up lots of cannon fodder and watching them march off to inevitable victory.

jwg points to an excellent analyst of U.S. fighting forces in Stephen Ambrose. Another author to seek out is S.L.A. Marshall, (who was not afraid to chastise military decisions that were stupid and costly, but who provides a lot of careful analysis of what the U.S. did right as well as what it did wrong).

The japanese were defeated from the moment pearl harbor was bombed and 2 carriers didnt get hit.

My main gripe is that what you read or hear about our military comes right from our military or our country itself.

Now if you read about it from another country you’d see what they think of it.

Used to be you could use those 10’ satellite dishes & get raw newsfeed. Then you’d see the US military doing things they should not.

Actually, manhattan; after the single personal insult, I did attack the moronic idea. Really, though, I was attacking the self-contradicting question.

But, Yes, I was wrong to use that initial insult in this forum although I do see a correlation between grades K-9 vacations and outlandish posts. Maybe that’s must my moronic idea, but I see it


“The japanese were defeated from the moment pearl harbor was bombed and 2 carriers didnt get hit.”

Wrong, Japan had 5 aircraft carriers. Although most were fast and small I remember the “Red Castle” was bigger then the US equivalent. The Japanese had faster and better fighters in far greater numbers. The United States was still on the ropes until Nimitz opened a can at Midway. Even then, it took Guadacanal to really make Yamamoto worry. Yamamoto wasn’t stupid he knew the carriers weren’t there, but he attacked anyway…and the odds were with him.

“Clatu, Verrata…nector?..neck-tie?”

Is there something about discussing wars that kills people’s reading comprehension abilities? I don’t get it.

Occam, Asmodean was talking about US carriers. I think he meant that at least two US carriers would have had to be hit at Pearl Harbor for the Japanese to have won the war. Speculation, admittedly, but it has nothing to do with the number of Japanese carriers.

Six IJN carriers took place in the attack on Midway - the four that were later lost at Midway and two others (Zuikaku, et al.). There were also a handful of light carriers that were not involved in this action; the Shoho, which was lost in the Coral Sea, comes to mind, but my memory is fuzzy.

Monty, I still don’t see where the OP said that WWII was basically over by the time we were involved.